October 7, 2018
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Next week, Eric and I will celebrate our second wedding anniversary. Our tradition on our anniversaries is to go out to dinner, and check-in with each other. It’s a Frank discussion we think of as our own state of the union. We reflect on the past year of marriage, to see what we have learned about loving one another, about ourselves, God and the world, and we look forward. It’s a time to start new ways of being together, to address struggles and figure out ways to change course, and to figure out what we need to end to keep our relationship healthy. At the end of the meal, we write out what we might add to our vows, the promises we have made to one another. We know that, over time, we will need to bring to bear new gifts and ways of being in our marriage. We will need to discern who we are called to be individually and as a family. We know overtime our marriage will be transformed.
I think being a part of a community of faith is a lot like being married. It’s a covenantal relationship, where we are imparted with grace and gifts by God, so that we can live together, and make real God’s love for creation. Being a part of a faith community involves belonging to a group of people who are trying to figure out faith and life together, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, to be to one another counselors in complexity, reaching out in concern and love to the world beyond our doors, as an outpouring of the love we encounter in this, our spiritual home.
As a community, part of our calling is to check-in every so often, to see who we are called to be, in this time and in this place, and to acknowledge the gifts God is cultivating within us that the community needs us to share, in this time, for our mutual ministry.
Paul’s’ words in this morning’s reading, from his letter to the Church in Rome, reminds us that, in our Baptism, we do not become members of an institution, or to a tradition. The Church is not a building or an organization, or even a faith statement; it is the Body of Christ, which is made up of people, those of us who live in Jesus’ family now, those who rest in the hope of the resurrection, and those yet to exist. In our Baptism, We become members, one to another. And that means that we are challenged to see what gifts we have to offer, what changes we may be called to make, what the people around us, through God’s presence and encouragement, are calling from within us to share.
There comes a moment in our new members class where I share what the Ministry of Member’s is, in our Presbyterian tradition. It’s all the things that members of Jesus’ family do. And when you hear it, at first it’s kind of overwhelming. I always remind folks that this is the Ministry of all Members, of multiple people, bringing the gifts they have, sharing the work, doing their part. These are ministries for our whole lives, and we’re not doing all of them at once individually. Still, every time I share it, it does sound like a lot.
Here’s what it says:
- Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ is a joy and a privilege. It is also a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission. A faithful member bears witness to God’s love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. Such involvement includes:
- proclaiming the good news in word and deed,
taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation,\
- lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support,
- studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life,
- supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents,
- demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church,
- responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others,
- living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life,
- working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment,
caring for God’s creation,
- participating in the governing responsibilities of the church, and
- reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.
So, you know, basically every good and worthwhile task in human life.
Being a part of a Christian Community, it’s not like being part of a club. The purpose of church membership isn’t to always get your way with how Worship looks, or the music ministry sounds, it’s not a step to having a church where your politics affirmed. Church membership doesn’t give you power in a non-profit. Instead, It’s about personal and communal transformation, and taking on the responsibility to the Mission of the Church in the world, with a rag-tag group of folks who are trying to be faithful to Jesus’ calling on their collective lives.
And while that can sound and feel like a lot, in reality, when I sit down and get to listen to your stories and your lives, I encounter Jesus already at work through and among us. I hear about the gifts we have, the Grace we’ve received, and this impossible task of being The Church starts to sound like it could actually happen, and is already happening.
I love Gathering New Member cohorts because I get to hear people’s stories about how they found their way to this family of faith. I get to hear about what’s hard about following Jesus, how folks can be supported in their faith walk, what God has placed on their heart to make manifest in the world.
And I enjoy getting to ask questions, not just of new members, but of all of us in this place. It’s exciting to hear about what God is stirring up within you, about the work you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing now, and seeing the ways in which you want to make space in your lives to be part of something new. There’s something freeing and exciting about reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.
God’s Grace, expressed in our Baptism is sufficient for the seemingly impossible task of being the Church in the world. We have what we need as a community to partner with God’s work in the world. But that only works if every so often we take stock of what our call to ministry is as members and friends, gathered in this place. Paul reminds us that we don’t belong to the church, we belong one to the other, and all are grafted into the resurrected Body of Christ.
And so, I’d like to give us a chance to check-in with one another, a kind of congregational State of Our Union. I get to have these conversations with you all the time; but it’s important for you to share with one another.
I’ve put my favorite questions from our New Members class in the bulletin, and I’ll ask, like last time, for you to find someone you’d like to get to know better. Each of you will have a whole 5 minutes to answer these three questions. At the end of five minutes, I’ll let you know that it is time to stay with the same partner, but if you were listening last time, you’ll share. After you’ve both shared, we will reconvene as a community. Any questions?
“What inspires you to love God and neighbor?”
Scripture? Music? How have you encountered God in
your life experience? What do you experience
in this community that leads you to want to follow Jesus with us here?
“Where is it hard in your life to be a follower of Jesus?”
We’re called to support and encourage one another
on our Discipleship journeys, but that means that we have to be honest about
what’s hard. Don’t worry; wherever you struggle, we promise there are many of us here too who have similar questions or challenges.
“God is doing
a new thing here at MPC. How might you play a part in that? What would
you like to continue, end, or begin at this time?”
Where do you see God doing something new here that you want to be a part of, even if you’re not sure how? Is there something new you want to offer to this place? What do you feel ready to continue doing? What are you ready to set down?
What did you share with your partner that you’d like to share with us all?
Friends, we Belong to God, and to one another, and being a part of this community, we’re going to need to keep checking in, and seeing how we’re feeling about our ministry in this place. And when you feel stuck, or overwhelmed, or unfulfilled, or when you have a huge win, or are excited to try something new, or want to create something in this place, that’s a good time to check in; with our Elders, or myself, to see how we can be bound, one to another, encouraging and supporting and celebrating.
The state of our union is strong. May our love for one another continue to abound.
In the Name of the One who was, and is, and ever more shall be, Amen.